Amending Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act to provide labour rights for sex workers

Synopsis: The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act needs to be reformed to decriminalise sex work and to guarantee labour rights for sex workers.

  • Sex work in India is governed by the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
  • It penalises acts such as keeping a brothel, soliciting in a public place, living off the earnings of sex work and living with or habitually being in the company of a sex worker.
  • The act is archaic and deprives basic labour rights for sex workers and it needs to be reformed.

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Why the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act needs to be reformed?
  • One, the Act represents the archaic and regressive view that sex work is morally wrong and that the people involved in it, especially women, never consent to it voluntarily. However, it fails to take account of the rights of ‘consenting adult sex workers.
  • Two, it has led to the stigmatization of sex workers making them more prone to violence, discrimination and harassment.
  • Third, The Act denies an individual their right over their bodies. Further, it imposes the will of the state over adults in making their life choices.
  • Fourth, the act has subjected the sex workers to harassment by the state officials due to a lack of independent agencies.

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Way forward
  • In the recent past, the Justice Verma Commission had also acknowledged the distinction between trafficked women for commercial sexual exploitation and consenting women sex worker.
  • Further Judiciary is of the view of recognising sex workers’ right to livelihood. For instance, The Supreme Court, in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal (2011), opined that sex workers have a right to dignity.
  • Sex workers have the right to earn by providing sexual services, live with dignity, and remain free from violence, exploitation, stigma and discrimination.
  • Parliament must reform existing legislation and do away with the ‘victim-rescue-rehabilitation’ narrative. The government should decriminalise sex work at the earliest and provide labour rights for sex workers

Source: The Hindu

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